*An in interview with José Claudio Souza Alves

Those of us who understand that “the enemy is elsewhere,” as José Padilha puts it in his most recent film, cannot believe the farce that the media and the dominant power structure of Rio de Janeiro want to put over on us.

To think that the several crime-fighting operations that have taken place in greater Rio de Janeiro in the past few days should be seen as a war between good, represented by the public security forces, and evil, personified by the drug traffickers, is to ignore the fact that not even the fictional version presented in the film Tropa de Elite 2 manages to sustain that version of events.

Over the past five years, the geopolitics of crime in Rio de Janeiro has been transformed. On one side militias have emerged, allied with one of the criminal factions. On the other side, another criminal organization is now reacting to its loss of hegemony.

As an example, in the Vigário Geral favela the police always entered into the fray by killing members of one of the gangs, thus favoring the invasion by a rival faction from the neighboring Parada de Lucas favela. This has been going on for four years now.  Once they were controlled by a single group, the two favelas were pacified by the absence of gang rivalries. Later the leader of the gang in charge was killed by the militia, and today the militia leases both favelas to the gang now in control there.

Similar processes have been taking place in several favelas. We know that the militias do not stop drug trafficking. They simply include it among their many business activities, along with pirated cable TV systems, illegal public transport, control of favela building lots, the illegal sale of cooking gas, selling votes, and the protection racket.

We also know that while the Police Pacification Units set up in favelas have stopped the conflicts, they have not stopped drug trafficking, which has been picked up by other groups depending on what deals are cut, including militias, the most powerful gang, or even a gang faction now trying to avoid being dismantled.

Many factors are involved in these deals, including the hegemonic political parties, community associations, manipulation of votes, the amount of money given over to the occupying military apparatus, etc.

In this situation, we should not imitate the population of the United States that supported the troops invading Iraq to take down the enemy Saddam Hussein, and later found out that none of the reasons Bush gave for such an atrocity really existed. Instead, we have to ask ourselves:  What is the real war going on here?

Put simply, it is a war for control of the geopolitical space for criminal activity in Greater Rio de Janeiro.

The field of action runs along the lines of the Central and Leopoldina railroads, as a result of the pressure that is pushing one of the criminal organizations out of the South Zone of Rio which is being cleaned up, at least in appearance, for the Olympic Games.

To justify massacres—such as the one that took place in 2007 on the eve of the Panamerican Games in the Complexo do Alemão favela, when a report by the Special Secretary for Human Rights of the Presidency of the Republic proved that there were several summary executions—is just a smokescreen to make us support a war on terror in the name of an even greater terror, one that is hidden and all-powerful.

Buses and cars burned, with very few victims, are symbolic expressions of the resentment of the faction that is losing control and looking to cut a new deal to allow it to survive.  After all, they don’t want to lose their relationship with the market that sustains them.

The farce of operations based on the tactics of war–with the inevitable dead, many of whom are not involved with the factions competing for control over criminal activity on the geopolitical stage of Greater Rio de Janeiro–only serves to make us believe that the absence of conflict is the same thing as peace and the absence of crime.  Thus we don’t perceive that the alliance of criminal groups to control criminal activity, many of which are directly involved with the police system, as the official investigation of the militias has proven, perpetuates our persistent disgrace—that of believing that the evil is in the “other.”

We’ve stopped asking the old and still relevant questions:  What is the current public security policy of Rio de Janeiro that coexists with private militias, powerful criminal gangs, and pacified zones in which organized crime continues to operate? Who are the figures behind this smokescreen, who make billions from drug traffic, robbery, other types of crime, militia control of entire zones, the sale of votes, and pacification campaigns in advance of the Olympic Games? Who is behind the media campaign in support of police squads that summarily execute poor people in favelas far from Rio’s South Zone? How long are we going to be treated like Americans supporting the good troops in this farce of a war that has gone on for so long that we’ve forgotten that it is supposed to be for some other purpose than hegemonic control of organized crime in Rio de Janeiro?

But don’t worry.  While Iraq will still be devastated, the stock market will improve.  And in Rio contractors and real estate firms will be able to sell safe condominiums in urban redevelopment projects like Porto Maravilha.

There will always be people taken in by the logic of the war on terror, those reduced to low levels of education and income who, together with the desperate middle class, will elect their own executioners and applaud the Independence Day parade on September 7, when the armored personnel carriers and Special Operations Batallions of the police pass by.

José Cláudio Souza Alves, PhD from the University of São Paulo, is a sociologist and professor in the Rural University of Rio de Janeiro in Seropédica, state of Rio de Janeiro, and the author of Dos Barões ao Extermínio – Uma História da Violência na Baixada Fluminense [“From Barons to Hit Squads: A History of Violence in the Rio de Janeiro Lowlands”], and member of Iser Assessoria, a community development NGO based in Rio de Janeiro. This an interview with José Cláudio Alves by the Instituto Humanitas Unisinos.

Translator: Thomas Holloway

1 Comment

  • Elle_likes_rap
    Posted January 18, 2011 11:43 am 0Likes

    Not only is it a war for control of geopolitical space for crime, but for all things. Have you seen the rise in real estate advertisements for these low middle-income small apartment units that are in newly “pacified” neighborhoods? There are families (NOT involved in drugs whatsoever) that are being priced out of these gentrifying “pacified” favelas! This is obviously something to do with criminal activity, but more, it is a general social control that the world/Rio wants to exercise on its central neighborhoods simply to increase the wealth of the city: expel the poorest people and replace them with international middle-class consumers. It is happening everywhere. Take a look at the US examples in Brooklyn, Venice Beach, the Mission…

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